On Psychology

Jewish World Review July 13, 2000 / 10 Tamuz, 5760

Dr. Wade Horn

For Culture Awareness
No Plus in Viewing TV

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Q: My husband and I have endured numerous criticisms because of our refusal to allow our two children (ages two and eight) to view broadcast television. The sole television in our house is 20 years old and is reserved for carefully controlled Disney movies and an occasional mom and dad movie.

We usually ignore the snide remarks that come our way, but as our daughter progressed through second grade last year, doubts began to emerge. We are concerned that as our children grow older, they will be out of touch with their classmates and this will interfere with their ability to relate to their peers. Our daughter, for example, knew nothing of Pokemon until one of the neighbors' children became obsessed with it.

So far, we haven't heard of any altercations over our children's lack of exposure to television, but that doesn't mean altercations won't occur in the future. Do you think a purposeful ignorance of "mainstream culture" will adversely affect our children?

A: Television is ubiquitous. Ninety-eight percent of American households possess at least one television set. Three of four have at least two, and half have three or more. Fifty percent of all children have a television set in their bedrooms.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child in the United States views three and four hours of television per day. Upon entrance into high school, the average child will have spent more time in front of the television than in the classroom. By the time the average child graduates from high school, he or she will have watched 40,000 hours of TV.

This is not good news, for several reasons.

First, television frequently depicts behaviors which most parents do not want their children to imitate, such as coarse language, sexual acting-out and hyper-aggressive behavior. This is true not only during late night or cable programming, but also during the so-called "family hour" on network television. Indeed, according to calculations by the Parents' Television Council, 54 percent of "family hour" shows contain sexual references, 35 percent use foul language, and 19 percent portray violent scenes.

Daytime television is even worse. One study of daytime soaps found that sexual relationships outside of marriage outnumbered sexual relationships within marriage by a ratio of 24-to-1. And don't get me started on shows such as Jerry Springer.

Unfortunately, things are getting worse, not better. On a per-hour basis, the amount of sexual material on television increased three-fold and foul language increased six-fold from 1989 to 1999. Moreover, although the quantity of violence decreased slightly between 1989 and 1999, the quality of the violence during this time period grew more graphic and bloody. Overall, the combined incidence of sexual content, coarse language and violent material almost tripled between 1989 and 1999.

Second, television viewing contributes to youth violence. The National Television Violence Study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina found prolonged exposure to television violence can numb children's ability to feel empathy for others. A lack of empathy for others is a predictor of aggressive, and even violent, behavior.

Indeed, a 22-year study conducted by University of Michigan researcher Leonard D. Eron found viewing violent television at age 8 was associated with more aggressive behavior at 18 and an increased incidence of serious criminal behavior, including assault, murder, child abuse, spouse abuse and rape, at age 30.

Third, television viewing reduces family interaction. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, 58 percent of children live in homes where the television is on during meals, a time when families otherwise would be talking with one another. Moreover, 85 percent of the time children are watching TV, their parents are not in the same room. In other words, when the TV is on, families talk less with one another. A family that isn't talking with one another is a family in trouble.

Fourth, heavy television viewing is linked to lower school performance. A study by the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family found children who have the TV on during family meals do more poorly at school. Another study found children who frequently watch TV while doing homework earn lower grades compared to those children who turn off the TV when doing homework.

Fifth, television disturbs children's sleep. According to a recent report published in Pediatrics, children who are heavy television viewers -- especially close to bedtime -- or who watch television in their bedrooms are more likely to resist going to bed, have more trouble falling asleep, wake up more frequently during the night and sleep less. Inadequate sleep is an important contributor to poor school performance.

Sixth, heavy television viewing can contribute to childhood obesity. According to the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which researchers questioned more than 4,000 children ages 8 through 16 about their TV viewing habits and physical activity, the more children viewed TV, the fatter they were. Children who watched four or more hours of television a day were, on average, 17 percent heavier than those who watched less than two hours per day.

So what will be the likely effect of your no-TV rule on your children? Less use of coarse language, more family interaction, less aggressive behavior, better school performance, more sleep and better physical health. Not a bad trade-off for an inadequate knowledge of Pokemon, wouldn't you say?

So here's my advice: Keep the TV off and the busybodies tuned out. Your children will do just fine.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 2000, Dr. Wade F. Horn